Thursday, January 17, 2013

Great Expectations: Great Lines

After being compelled to read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickins, it took me decades before I picked up another book by same author. Mr. Freisinger, my ninth grade English teacher, the almost endearing eccentric that he was, seemed a character straight out of the book himself with his passion for Mansard roofs and his swoons at the classic Coke bottle shape. It was all very entertaining, but I didn't connect either with him, his wild-eyed readings, or with Dickens. A Tale of Two Cities, like most of Dickens' work, is now in the public domain and you can download multiple e-books for free or try A Tale on Project Gutenberg first, if you like. Curious to see if the younger me was wrong, I read the beginning afresh. Still not for  me beyond "…we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…." I remember the giggles in the class at the time.

But last year I read Bleak House, and now I am in the middle of Great Expectations, and I enjoy both. The word choices are wonderful and humorous, the settings vivid, some of the dialogue unexpected. 
The whole beginning of the third chapter of Great Expectations sets a scene and mood of a damp and drippy morning, as if the character of Pip and his emotional state were being rendered in atmosphere and weather.
I had seen the damp lying on the outside of my little window, as if some goblin had been crying there all night, and using the window for a pocket-handkerchief. 
The mist was heavier yet when I got out upon the marshes, so that instead of my running at everything, everything seemed to run at me. This was very disagreeable to a guilty mind.
He is sure something will snatch him up and take him away to be locked up for his crime, but Dickens expressed this sentiment viscerally; we feel guilty, too. In the middle of chapter 4, a sense of humor pokes the reader as if Dickens were writing metafiction:
("You listen to this," said my sister to me, in a severe parenthesis.) 
I find this more than amusing. I could almost stop right there and be satisfied.

I am only on chapter 11 of 59 chapters, so I cannot tell you what lies in wait. I have great expectations for it (I had to say that) and am sure it will be chuckle-worthy. (But I had better read more than a chapter a night if I am to get through it in less than a year.) Dickens (like Jane Austen) is funny!

Coincidentally, I just got an email announcement (no, not from Dickens) from my friend Ira. Little did I realize that 2012 was the 200th anniversary of Dickens' birth. Ira and Julia Levin made an entertaining video and wrote the song, "Raise Your Glass to Charles Dickens." Be prepared for some great rhyming lines and melody you'll hum in the shower. See and hear summaries of seven Dickens novels in under seven minutes! Dickens is in the air.

Addendum 1/20/13: Just heard about the book due out mid-February 2013 by Kevin Smokler, Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven't Touched Since High School on NPR and thought it relevant. It takes a look at those books you might have read in high school and explores how you might benefit by looking at them again.


Trish J said...

As an adolescent I couldn't stand a Tale of Two Cities either. Glad to know I have company! I have read much of Dickens since and only The Pickwick Papers did not appeal to me. Dickens had a 'way with words'and wonderful characterizations--along with some very pointed social commentary--that continues to give him broad appeal. Thanks for these columns. Lots of great content!

Christine Linton said...

I have not read Dickens myself since school days (and I'm now 60) but am encouraged to try again after this post and the first comment - thanks for the push outside my comfort zone.

Roberta said...

I loathe Dickens. I feel badly saying that but I just cannot read past the first sentences. Ever.

Sorry Charlie.